So I was reading some philosophy the other day – by one of those crazy French guys who’s writing is so dense you need a chisel to get through – and it got me thinking about touch. The piece was The Intertwining–the Chiasm by Merleau-Ponty, which focuses in part on the concept of one’s own hand touching the other. Merleau-Ponty uses this example to explore sensation and perception as a two-way process. Just as your hand feels, it is also being felt. It’s fascinating and poetic stuff and since Merleau-Ponty died before finishing this remarkable essay we are only left wondering where he was actually going (however my sense is that even if he’d finished it, I’d still be pretty lost). Thinking about all this touching and being felt this question popped into my mind: is masturbation inherently gay?
I’m not the only one who’s been asking this. Last year, Pastor Mark Driscoll from Seattle made some strong remarks against men engaging in solo fun unless a lady friend was also in very close vicinity. Driscoll also made the claim that masturbation is “monosexual” and particularly sinful if a man is, “watching himself in a mirror and being turned on by his own male body”.
Incurring the wrath of God aside, what else can we say about this touching-oneself experience when it comes to desire? I’m guessing that not everyone sits in front of the mirror checking themselves out, but in fact fantasizes or watches porn, etc. So are we just touching ourselves but imagining that the “toucher” is actually someone else? One might draw the conclusion that this explains why so many men watch porn, i.e. MUST-SEE-WOMAN-ON-SCREEN-SO-NOT-GAY. However, since women are also avid porn-watchers, perhaps that’s an unfair conclusion. Plus, as previously discussed, I’m not a big fan of drawing gendered lines in the sand when it comes to talking about what men or women “normally” do. And who is to say that our porn watching habits actually reveal anything about our sexual orientation? Perhaps gay men masturbate to female porn?
Well, I don’t know about gay men, but there has been a fair bit written on lesbians that watch gay male porn. Apparently (according to writer Ariel Levy) “It’s definitely a thing”. As this piece from The Daily Beast explores, a lot of women report that watching gay porn is about enjoying masculine role-play and themes of domination and power more than gender per se. The article quotes comedian Kate Clinton, explaining her proclivity for man-on-man visuals: “We’re so used to watching men in our lives wield power. Gay porn is an opportunity to watch them get f—–.” Clearly the porn that people enjoy has an elaborate relationship to the desires that people have.
Considering all of these points, what are we left with when it comes to beating the bishop/ cranking the shank/ jerking the gherkin/ insert euphemism here? Well, at the end of the day I don’t think that masturbation is inherently gay because it involves the mind and not just sensation. Considering this particular experience of touching and being touched reminds us that desire is not so black and white, in fact, it is extremely complex.